The tale of the “morning after pill” in Namibia is one of a long party-filled night and regrets in the morning. It is a tale of pills popped every Monday morning and forgotten every Friday evening.
The morning after pill is taken after one has had unprotected sex and is not in itself a regular contraceptive. It was designed for use under exceptional circumstances for example if one’s regular birth control method failed or if one forgot to take birth control pills.
By definition, the morning after pill is a contraceptive that comes in a one-pill dose. It contains a much higher dose of hormones than the normal contraceptive pill, which means that you should not use it regularly. If taken within 72 hours (3 days) and preferably within 12 hours after a contraceptive accident or unprotected sex, it can prevent pregnancy by temporarily stopping the release of an egg from the ovary, thus preventing fertilization or preventing a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus. It basically interferes with ovulation or fertilisation.
Many term it as the pill of forgiveness and hence its name – Morning After Pill.
Ideally the pill is supposed to only be sold with a prescription but debates have been ongoing for years over the age limit for users. Many users find ways to access the pill often for self-medication over and over again. The danger many ignore or are yet to know is that the habitual use of the pill may cause infertility and in some instances increase the risk of cancer.Its increased use is arousing fears of a generation that has become reckless. The use of the pill has become high especially amongst the youth who walk into a pharmacy seeking for a quick fix solution while others buy even before having unprotected sex.
Pharmacists have registered an increase in the use of the morning after pill raising concerns in a country where abortion is illegal and reproductive health is a taboo topic to many young people.
According to pharmacist Safoora Adams, there are on average 15 women that use the morning after pill on a daily basis. While it may be a method of prevent pregnancy, Safoora is of the opinion that many women do not know of the consequences and risks when they overuse the pill.
“Men now come and buy the pill because the ladies are afraid to be questioned. This is an immoral act by men wanting to have unprotected sex and having the pill as a safety net to fall back on. The females know little of the risks and males most likely know less than the little that the females know. We prefer women to buy so that we provide them with informed counselling and the implications they are putting in their lives. However, the attitude with most women is that of if we not want to give them the pill, they will simply say that they will get it at another pharmacy,” said Safoora.
She adds, “The pill is badly abused. Ladies don’t really know the risks involved in taking the morning after pill. They have become regulars at almost every second pharmacy to the extent that they start shying away from the outlets. And to make it even worrisome, apart from the condom, most women refuse to use any other form of contraceptive because they fear the side effects and this is a problem,” said the pharmacist.
Besides its perceived effectiveness, after taking common Norlevo or Levonelle pill, the user may experience side effects such as nausea or vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, headache, breast tenderness, bleeding between periods or heavier menstrual bleeding, lower abdominal pain or cramps, change blood sugar levels and a change in menstrual cycle.
Could it be ignorance?
In a country where the literacy rate is close to acceptable, many would expect a better understanding of the pill and reproductive health at large. The debate however arises in questioning the increased overuse of the pill and what is at stake at large. A significant portion of users of the morning after pill never think of going on regular contraceptive. This increases the chances of contracting sexual transmitted diseases.
“These things are being spoken about but people are just ignorant. To my observation, it has come to attention that nowadays, girls worry more about getting pregnant than contracting a disease which is very abnormal when you come to think of it,” said young Aisha Frans.
With a variety of options, Aisha adds that many women choose to go for the morning after pill because it is a once off thing. “I think many think the regular pill is very stressing to take every day as opposed to the morning after pill. But, what about your health at the end of the day?” She asked.
There are plenty of sexual activities deliberately engaged without protection because it is perceived to be more pleasurable when it is skin on skin and this is one obvious cause of the misuse of the pill. Either way, if the female is not on contraceptive and the irresponsible act is performed, the “morning after pill” becomes their salvation prayer.
While the protection aspect may be catered for, statistics the long term consequences seem to be against the country. Just this week, a daily newspaper published that and an estimated number of 17000 youth between 10 and 19 years are living with HIV in Namibia. With this figure, one could conclude that there are many above the ages that are not included in this number in reference to the volume of ignorance towards reproductive health care.
Research shows that young people start their sexual age by the age of 16 without adequate information. The continued and overuse of the morning after pill is therefore perceived as symptom of a deeper societal problem, one that needs to be addressed urgently.